Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Things I Don't Like So Much About Korea

The flip side of my earlier post on stuff I like, here's a list of stuff that's less appealing about living and working in Korea.

1. Expensive coffee. Like, $5/cup.

2. No decaf. Not even Starbucks has it.

3. Shoving and super-aggressive line jostling. Everyone from little old ladies to schoolboys will body check you to get to the front of anywhere.

4. Rude kids. Seriously. And okay, cultural differences, but little kids will run up and point at you and scream to their mother/teacher "oma! waygookin! pwayo!" (mom, look! a foreigner!). Kids old enough to be taking English will run up, wave in your face, scream "hello, how are you!" and laugh hysterically. Last week, I even had a few middle school-ish aged boys run up to me and scream "FUCK!" in my face and run away. What happened to respecting one's elders? Good grief.

5. Grown-ass men drunkenly devolving into frat boys on weekends. If I don't see some guy old enough to know better throwing up in the middle of the street, it's not Saturday.
6. Working harder, not smarter. I'm expected to stay at my desk until 4:30p, even if I finish teaching and lesson planning at 2:00. Lame.

7. Being watched. All the time. How I dress, what I eat, when I shower - these are all considered acceptable conversation at school, where my host father is also a teacher.

8. School cafeteria. It's not that the food is particularly bad, just that there are no options and I'm a vegetarian. At my high school there was the standard hot lunch, but also a sort of food court, where you could buy pizza, PB&J, cold cuts sandwiches, pre-made salads, fro-yo, and other stuff. Sure we complained, but we knew we had it pretty good. At CSHS, it is what it is - and today, it's mashed potatoes and fried pork au gratin, beef rib soup, beef rib grilled kimchi, spinach, and rice. So even though I pay as much for lunch in the cafeteria as I would to go out, today the only non-meaty components were spinach and rice, not an uncommon occurrence.

9. Koreans repeating "facts" about Korea.
*"Did you know Korea is most scientific alphabet in world?"
*"Did you know Korea is most beautiful country in the world, because it has four seasons?"
*"Kimchi, it is most health food in the world."
Okay, it's kind of charming and adorable when kids say this stuff, but it makes it tough to take an adult seriously when he tells me that kimchi saved Korea from SARS (no joke, that happened). Also, Koreans are constantly shocked that I am able to eat spicy food. After years of Indian and Mexican food, I definitely have a higher tolerance for spice than my host family, but teachers in my school are still floored when I eat a pepper.

10. The Korean education system. What a double-edged sword! Yes, these kids outscore American kids by huge margins, but at what price? At my host sister's age, I was taking bike rides to the beach, making up talent show dances with friends, going to the mall after school and the movies on the weekends. My host sister gets home at 3pm and then practices violin and piano, takes a break to hang with her brother when he gets home, has dinner, and then most nights gets tutored until around 9. She's up doing homework until at least 11:00. She's 12 years old, in her last year of elementary school - it's only going to get exponentially worse until college.

11. Perhaps most importantly:
**Squat toilets. Dear Korean National Re-Branding Effort: If you want people to come visit your country and spend loads of tourism money on a luxury vacation, rather than see your country as a budget, roughin' it backpacking destination, get actual toilets. The kind where you can flush toilet paper and it won't explode. Seriously, this squat toilet or unflushable TP thing? Big fail, Korea.

Edit: I import this blog into facebook, and some fellow Fellows had some excellent additions (if you're reading this on facebook, the original is at hafbright.blogspot.com)

12. Sarah: Agreed on the "kimchi saved Korea from SARS" phenomenon. With the new "shin-jong" flu the topic of every conversation (and I know this even when the conversation's in Korean: "blah blah blah shin-jong flu issoyo blah blah blah"), SARS comes up a lot. Then I inevitably hear, "You know, kimchi very good for health. Uhhh...[searches for English word] SARS? Kimchi, very good!" When I laugh at this, the Korean I'm talking to gives me a very concerned look, like, oh you ignorant waygookin. Which is, come to think of it, probably the same look I give them for telling me that kimchi prevents everything, from SARS to AIDS.

13. Rachael: not only is it kimchi, but almost every other korean food i put into my mouth... breakfast, lunch and dinner... tonight at dinner we ate samgimpsam (sp?). host mother: "ginseng so good for health!" for lunch today, i ate seaweed and tuna soup. male math teacher: "this is so good for health. you should eat for 3 months after pregnancy." in the gyomoshil between classes: art teacher: you should have this vitamin drink, good for health! oookay, thank you.

14. Alicia: when a phrase starts with "traditional korean culture..."
(editor's note: if you ever come here, expect that everything will be explained as traditional Korean culture. Some of it is helpful information, much of it is not. Preparing healthy food for your family? Giving up your seat on the subway to a little old lady? Koreans are convinced that only they do this, and will explain to you in detail how it is "traditional Korean culture.")

15. Veronica: i hate the soup! every lunch, the stupid fish soup i never eat, and teachers are always like, you don't eat soup????? i just wanna be like I DON'T LIKE SOUP!

16. Rachael:
or how about the time at lunch when i waiting for everyone else to finish eating, so i started picking apart the fish with my chopsticks. one of the teachers got the idea that i must really really like that fish, so she reached across the table, took two fish off of a male teacher's lunch tray, and put them on mine. "you must like it, eat! eat!" whaaaaaat?!? the poor guy didn't know what happened!

17. Derek: definitely agree with this list. what about the free interchange of "you will..." "you can..." "you should..." and "you must..." to mean anything from potential to imperative? maybe it's just my coteachers but I never know if I'm being ordered or if they're simply stating a fact.

(ed. note: Word. Seriously, Derek's right, and it's crazy-making. At orientation they told us that Koreans are indirect, but that's not quite true - they're just indirect when I expect them to be up front, and brutally direct in ways that would be wildly inappropriate in the US. Asking me if I like another teacher while standing not 3 feet from him? Awkward. Asking me which class is the smartest while my students are within earshot? Lame.
Also, Korean textbooks must define the words "sure" and "maybe" in very strange ways. It took me at least a month to figure out that when I ask my coteacher a yes or no question and she responds "maybe," it almost always means "yes." Almost.)

Also, I want to note that while my lists on stuff I like and stuff I don't like are relatively even, no one has yet commented adding anything to the list of great stuff about Korea. I've been feeling OK, but maybe as a group, we're collectively on the low part of that orientation parabola of happiness...


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